PAGASA has declared a cooler season this year til February due to the La Nina Effect. The drier and colder air of the cooler months can certainly be merciless to your hands. And with all of the cooking, cleaning, crafting and wrapping that come with the holiday season, your hands will be doing a lot more work than usual. You’ll also be washing them frequently to avoid cold and flu bugs, and you may even be engaging in fun but finger-freezing snowball fights. Chapped, sore and flaky hands need not be your fate, with proper hand care.
The main goal of moisturizing your hands is, interestingly enough, to protect the body’s own built-in humectant system. The skin’s outer layer contains a collection of compounds that doctors refer to as the “natural moisturizing factor” (NMF). Components in the NMF actually absorb moisture from the atmosphere to keep skin supple even when exposed to harsh elements.
The bad news? The NMF is water soluble, meaning the more you wash your hands — a common wintertime illness-avoiding tactic — the more you remove your body’s natural defense against dryness.
“The number-one factor that contributes to dry hands is soap and water, especially hot water,” says Dr. Meghan O’Brien, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. “Antibacterial soaps are especially harsh and drying, so avoid them. Minimizing contact with soap and water can help preserve the moisture of the hands, and moisturizing immediately after washing is crucial.”
It’s also essential to avoid certain products. Hand sanitizers that contain alcohol are especially drying and should only be used in a pinch — say, if you are out to eat, have soiled hands and can’t get to a sink to wash with soap and water. Also, it’s “important to look for a hand wash without sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate; this ingredient is too harsh, especially on winter-ravaged hands,” says Becky Sturm, CEO and founder of StormSister Spatique in Minnesota. When cleaning up, say experts, avoid deodorant soaps and those with added fragrance.
The most important element for happy hands? Moisture. “Think humidity,” said Dr. Dale Isaacson of DC Derm Docs. “Plugging in some small humidifiers around the house can add some much-needed moisture to the air, your hands, face and more.” Isaacson also notes the importance of wearing sunscreen: “This isn’t just a summer staple. Even in the winter, exposure to the sun’s rays speeds up the aging process. This exposure increases the risk of developing dry skin, wrinkles, age spots and spider veins.
Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher on all skin that will be exposed, especially the hands.”
An unexpected — but very smart — “winter-skin-care” suggestion comes from New Jersey–based wellness expert Len Saunders. “To help hands look good all winter, keep consistent with an exercise program and properly hydrate the body,” advises Saunders.
“Cardio workouts keep the blood pumping, maintain a warmer body temp and improve body metabolism, all of which keeps the hands healthier and moist. Hydrating the body properly assists the body in its natural mechanism for cooling down during exercise — sweat. This contributes to keeping the oil glands active and healthy.”
When you venture out into the cold, prep your hands before exposure. “Due to the hands’ thin skin, they bear the brunt of winter weather — more than any other part of the body. Make certain to wear gloves when you head outdoors,” says Isaacson.
Though it may conjure up images of your grandmother (or Betty Draper), wearing good old-fashioned rubber gloves when washing dishes or doing other water-based housecleaning can go a long way toward preserving your hands, especially in cold months. Strong nails will protect your fingertips from injury.”Keep nails clean, at an appropriate length, and make sure to hydrate the cuticles — use essential oil or cuticle cream,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, author of “Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist.” “Ladies should apply nail oil every other night to help polish last longer and to reduce dryness from the chemicals in polish.”
Finally, if your hands don’t seem to be responding to proper home care, it might be time to consult with an expert. “If these changes do not bring relief, make an appointment to see a dermatologist,” says Isaacson. “Very dry skin may require a prescription ointment or cream. Dry skin also can be a sign of an underlying medical condition such as eczema or psoriasis. A dermatologist can examine the skin and explain what will help alleviate the dryness and irritation.”
By Laura Vogel